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Your cultural calendar: traditional Chinese festivals and events in Hong Kong

Immerse yourself in the local customs and culture by getting to know some of the key traditional Chinese festivals and events celebrated each year in Hong Kong.

New Year celebrations are the highlight of Chinese festivals in Hong Kong
New Year celebrations are the highlight of Chinese festivals in Hong Kong

More: 12 free (or very cheap) things to do in Hong Kong

Chinese New Year

This is usually celebrated in January or February and is easily the most significant of all the annual Chinese festivals. You’ll hear people greeting each other with “Kung hei fat choi!” – Cantonese for “Happy New Year” – and exchanging red envelopes of money, known as lai see. On New Year’s Day, a huge night parade passes through the streets of Tsim Sha Tsui, while on the second day of the Lunar New Year, a dazzling fireworks display lights up the skies across Victoria Harbour.

Spring Lantern Festival

Falling on the first full moon of the Lunar New Year, the Spring Lantern Festival is held to bid farewell to the previous year. Huge, brightly-lit lanterns of all shapes and sizes can be found as part of a parade in Tsim Sha Tsui. The lanterns stay on display for about a month.

Tin Hau Festival

More than 70 temples dedicated to Tin Hau, goddess of the sea, are scattered across Hong Kong and stand as a testament to the territory’s rich maritime heritage. Crowds old and young visit the temples in April for Tin Hau’s birthday. The biggest celebration is out in Yuen Long.

Chinese festivals: Traditional buns from the Cheung Chau Bun Festival
Traditional buns from the Cheung Chau Bun Festival

Cheung Chau Bun Festival

Sleepy fishing village Cheung Chau comes to life during its annual bun festival, held on Buddha’s Birthday –  the fifth to the ninth days of the fourth lunar month, usually around the Western calendar month of May. Marked to honour the Taoist god Pak Tai, the centuries-old celebration is famous for sweet buns, with the event culminating with a Bun Scrambling Competition, involving the climbing of 60-foot bamboo towers. The other highlight of the festival is the Piu Sik (Floating Colours) Parade where local school children in billowing costumes on floats parade through the island’s streets. This is the highlight for many of the annual Chinese festivals.

Dragon Boat Festival

The Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival, also known as the Tuen Ng Festival, takes place on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, usually around May or June, and is a public holiday in Hong Kong. On this day, colourful dragon-boat races, where teams paddle accompanied by drum beats, are held around the city. A massive three-day party takes place down at the Central Harbourfront space as dragon boaters race across Victoria Harbour. San Miguel hosts a beer-fest at the same time, while a family zone keeps kids entertained.

Hungry Ghost Festival

Incense fills the air and small fires erupt on roadsides across the city in late August/early September when the Hungry Ghost Festival falls. During this “ghost month”, the gates of hell are said to open, leaving the un-dead free to wander. Food is given as offerings to them, and paper versions of valuable goods including mobile phones, bags and money are burnt to
pacify the ghosts and honour ancestors. One of the more unusual of the annual Chinese festivals.

Mid-Autumn Festival

This major festival has been celebrated since the Tang Dynasty and honours the full moon, a symbol of unity for the Chinese. In Hong Kong, traditional round pastries known as mooncakes are still given, alongside modern versions. A must-see event is the enormous fire dragon dance in Tai Hang, where a Chinese dragon constructed with 70,000 glowing incense
sticks winds through the streets down to Tin Hau. Another is the lantern display erected at Victoria Park.

This article appears in Expat Living’s 2017 edition of City Guide. Get your free copy now!

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